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Old Photographs - Some thoughts on card mounts and dating

There are many variations in the mounts used for cartes-de-visite and cabinet photographs. Is it possible to use this variation in mounts to narrow down dating of the whole? Listed below are some of the variations found when describing the mounts of surviving c-d-vs and cabinet portraits.

Mount Sizes:

The carte-de-visite mount is approximately 4 in x 2.5 in; cabinet portraits are approximately  6.5 in x 4.5  in; midget 2.5 in x 1.25 in. The c-d-v was introduced first in the 1850s. The general wisdom seems to be that the cabinet portrait rose in popularity as the c-d-v declined, becoming most popular towards the end of the 19th century. While the generality of this may be true, the cabinet portrait was in fact introduced as early as 1866.

In The Yearbook of Photography and Photographic News Almanac for 1867, Ed G Wharton Simpson, an article entitled “The Annals of Photography for 1866” reported “A novelty in portraiture, calculated in some degree to replace the many demands for cartes de visite has been successfully introduced under the name of Cabinet Portraits. These pictures which have some features in common with the smaller pictures which have during the last few years been so popular with the public but are larger in size, the dimensions of the print being 51/2 in x 4 in those of the mounting card 61/2 in x 41/2  in.  In arrangement and style the pictures resemble card portraits but the better dimensions afford more opportunity for pictorial effect. Albums have been made for these pictures not only in this country but on the continent and in America and there is great promise that the introduction of the new style will give a new impulse to portraiture.

Image Size

The size of the image on early cartes and cabinet photographs will vary as these were probably trimmed by hand. Later suppliers would provide photographic papers in pre-cut sizes. The Union Photographic Co of 53 Worcester Street, Birmingham was offering in 1902:
No 1 CDV 3⅝ x 2⅜ (1/10d per gross)
No 2 CDV 3½ x 2¼ (1/8d per gross)
No 3 Cabinet 5¾ x 4 (5/- per gross)
No 4 Cabinet 5½ x 4 (4/8d per gross)

The two cartes de visite below from the 1890s are on standard sized carte de visite mounts, with impressed rectangles for the photographic print and with the print area approximating to the size of a cigarette card. The print sizes are respecticely 70 x 37 mm and 63 x 37mm. Both have the photographer's details impressed into the mount - these are George Pendrey FRPS, Nottingham and J Kerby and Son, Ipswich and Harwich. The Kerby example has an embossed pattern of plant leaves, while the Pendrey example is plain grey card with a gilt edge. Below this is a third carte, image size 34 x 55 mm, on cream card, with rounded corners and impressed photographer's name "Frank Hull, New Barnet". All three have plain backs. It is not known at this stage whether these are simply examples from the very wide range of different carte de visite mounts available or whether cartes such as these, with smaller sized images, had a specific name.

Examples of unusual c-d-v mounts

Carte de visite, small image example


Rounded or square? Again the conventional wisdom is that the rounded corners became popular later. Again, the innovation seems to have come relatively early.

In the Journal of photography for 1870, Schmerl and Ellis, 39 Broad Street Buildings, London EC, were advertising “Round Corner mounts for cartes de visite, buff and white with name and address, mounting boards, India tinted mounts...

Could we differentiate between different mounts on the basis of the radius of rounded corners by using a suitable measuring device? If so, could this possibly become another indicator of date?

Thickness of card

The plainer mounts on the 1860s cartes have the appearance of being made from thinner card material than some later cartes. Could this be scientifically measured with a digital micrometer to see if there is a correlation between age and card thickness? However, photographers put their finished cartes and cabinets through a rolling press – a mangle-like device with two polished steel rollers – this ensured the fusion of photograph and mount and also gave a polish to the finished product. The setting on the rolling press could presumably affect the thickness of the finished carte, irrespective of the thickness of the unused mount.

1860s rolling press

A rolling press, 19 shillings in 1869 from Fallowfierlds Photographic Warehouse in Lambeth

Colour of the mount

Again a conventional wisdom seems to be that darker colours tended to be later, even allowing for the possibility of fading over time. Again we can see from advertisements from the late 1860s, early 1870s that mounts are available for cartes in every tint or every India tint.


Smooth, textured, gloss. Again a high gloss with dark colour is generally thought to be later in origin. Once again however, advertisements in the 1860s include “enamelled” mounts – i.e. those with highly polished surfaces. By 1902 one supplier, The Union Photographic Co of 53 Worcester Street, Birmingham, was offering plain Bristol mounts, plain enamelled mounts and waterprrof enamel mounts - (in each case in a variety of colours or tints, with and without gold bevel edges)

Edge treatment

Again, conventional wisdom is that more complicated edge finishes: chamfered, rounded, corrugated, coloured, gilt, silver, or simply polished, emerged over many years. However examples can be found of a great variety of mounts in the 1860s and 70s. In 1870 Edwin Oburne 23a Red Lion Square and Rue D’Enghies Paris. Advertised  “French Bristol and Stucquee carte de visite mounts, tinted and ornamented, Bristol Mounts for large size pictures, stereoscopic and medallion mounts. ..... The largest assortment in England of French photographic stationery. All the latest patterns in carte mounts, cream, and chamois tints. Plintheole, satin and Hydrochrome patterns, round corners, with borders and gilt or coloured edges”.

Borders - printed or impressed on the face of mount

Again, from 1860s advertisements printed borders in different styles and colours seem to have been available at least from 1870. Incidentally, the photograph below is an ingeneous jig, described in the British Journal of Photography 28/7/1865 as "New Apparatus for mounting cartes de visite – Smith’s Patent, manufactured by Mr Solomon of Red Lion Square, London". A metal plate the size of the photographic image is mounted on a block. On two sides of this are adjustable stops. The photo image is placed face down on the plate, glue is applied to its back and the card mount is placed on top correctly positioned by touching the mount against two sides on the adjusted stops.

Device to position image on mount when mounting cartes de visite

Other Embossing

Medallion mounts had an embossed oval area in the centre, making the central part of the portrait, usually a vignette, stand out slightly from the background. This shaping was done after the image had been mounted on the carte, probably by feeding the carte through a finishing or etching press between special shaped plates

Printing on the face of the mount

We find different colours of print, impressed or embossed designs, use of a rubber stamp, location of print in different positions on the card.  Again 1870s advertisements suggested any print design, and colour was available, but early advertisements do not mention embossing or impressed designs. Some photographers impressed designs on their mounts using a hand operated embossing machine, like this one offered by Marion and Co in 1906.

Embossing machine - Marion and Co

Printing on reverse of mount

We can find on surviving cartes – use of rubber stamps, complexity of design, variety of print colours. Again 1870s advertisements suggest great variety. For example in 1870 JG Barker and Co, 42 Castle Street, Holborn, London EC. advertised: "Carte de visite mounts printed 5000 £1.15.0 and upwards. 10,000 £3.5.0 and upwards. Any quantity of card, enamelled, tinted &c at lowest prices.  Printing in any style or colour. No charge for plate with orders for 5000 and upwards. Cabinet mounts, India tints &c." And with mounts so cheap, it would only be the smallest photographers, with low volumes of work, who would resort to printing their mounts individually with a rubber stamp.  It would seem that printers kept the plates for customers’ designs, looking for repeat orders. So in 1870 notice was given that “S.G.B. & Co having purchased the business lately carried on by Mr Thomas Maddison at 48 Skinnet Street , Snow Hill, now hold his stock of engraved plates.”

Roger Vaughan dates some designs on his site here: www.cartes.freeuk.com/dated/marion.htm

Mount Maker / printer

Some mounts include the name of the printer/designer, but again this doesn’t always help as, for example, Marion mounts were probably available throughout the 19th century. Some other mount makers whose names names have survived are:

  • Ch Dauvois (Rohaut & Hutinet successors, Trade Mark “Ch.D” (1870)
  • Squire and Co, 52 King William Street, London Bridge, offered “Card Mounts made on the premises, any size” (1869)
  • Frewer & Evans, London
  • W. Herrmann & Co, Berlin and London
  • W Hooper, Montpellier Street, Walworth
  • WW Hughes & Co
  • Rec C.E.& C
  • GR & Co (also produced albums)


Marion mounts are coded with punctuation marks surrounding the printers name, probably indicating date of production. Or could these indicate a batch number for the customer to make sure that re-orders are from the last design supplied? Details are set out here: www.cartes.freeuk.com/dated/mip.htm

Tissue covers - plain or printed.

Many cartes were provided with a tissue cover, which served to protect the image. In some cases these would have contained printed information, but being flimsy in nature, these have mainly failed to survive, so will not help with dating.

Other Features.

There are also features of mounts which the author has not yet recognised from the following descriptions which appear in the advertisements of the suppliers as follows:

  • French, Bristol and Stucquee carte de visite mounts (1870)
  • Chamois tints. (1870)
  • Hydrochrome patterns (1870)
  • Cartes Satin (1870)
  • Prince of Wales Cards (1870)
  • American Standard Cards (1870)
  • Coat of Arms Cards (1870)
  • Cartes Plintheoles (1870)
  • Berlin cards(1869)

If you have any ideas about the features that these terms describe, please let us know by e-mailing webmaster@fadingimages.uk

Other sizes of mount

Over the years many different sizes and formats of mounts have been used by photographers. Some have had particular names, others not.

First are four examples of miniature cartes de visite. One example shown measures 58 x 33mm, the others 52 x 33mm. Three of these are by S.J.Moore of Crouch End, the larger one is by Cantuar Co, Bromley. The Bromley example is dated in manuscript on the reverse, 1891.

Four examples of miniature cartes de visite

Next is a folded card mount with an art nouveau design on the front and the words "With the season's greetings". Inside the mount a small photographic print 50 x 40 mm sits behind an oval cut out window. There are no photographer's details shown. The size of the mount folded is 90 x 63mm

Folded art nouveau mount

Next are two identical mounts on white glossy card with raised floral decorations. Overall these are smaller than cartes de visite, being 80 x 59 mm. The photographic images on these are 32 x 26 mm and 27 x 21 mm. Both have the photographer's details on the reverse. One from Fred Ash, Blackpool, Bolton and Manchester is printed on the reverse, while the other has a simple text rubber stamp "M Younge 68a Tavistock Street, Bedford". Next is a similar, but not identical, embossed mount 79 x 58 mm. photographic image sized 26 x 24mm, no photographer's details, reverse blank. Again, it is not known whether there was a particular name for this configuration.

Smaller than carte de visite mounts

Reverse of above mounts

Small image mount

Below is a full sized carte de visite with a tin type portrait in the centre, 22 x 18mm. The mount is printed as a greetings card, reverse blank, photographer unknown, and is from the 1890s.

Gem tin type carte de visite.

Below is an other sized carte. From writing on the rear of the mount this is from Bromberg in 1902. The mount measures 113 x 51mm. Photographer unknown.

Unusual format carte de visite from Bromberg

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www.FadingImages.uk is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, listing photographers in Cambridgeshire 1840-2000
This page was last modified: 27 December 2017, 16:39

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